He is tall, there is no doubt about it. 71 metres to be precise, he stares out imperiously over the junction of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers that he was built to calm, and interesting enough he has achieved just that. Not by his withering stare mind you, but by the fact that the stone removed when carving him was dumped in the river, thus changing the river currents and thereby making the river much safer for passing ships.
We are in Leshan, in the Sichuan province of China, an hour’s high speed train journey from Chengdu. We are marvelling at the Giant Buddha of Leshan who was carved into the cliff face at Mount Emei back in the Tang dynasty, work commenced in 713 but wasn’t finished until 803. The Mount Emei Scenic Area, including the Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area, was listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.
We intended to view the Buddha from a boat but leaving the train station we were herded to a bus stop which took us to Mount Emei. There didn’t seem to be any boat option on offer so we followed the crowd of Chinese onto a bus. We subsequently found we should have caught a bus into town and the port to catch a boat.
The bus deposited us at the foot of Mount Emei and the ticket office. Ticket in hand we started our stair climb to the top, very scenic and along the path little statues were carved into the cliff face. On reaching the top we went and admired the top of the Buddha’s head and then noticed the mother of all queues to climb down around the Buddha, for which of course we had bought a ticket!
It took us an hour to get to the head of the queue, and then the descent beside the buddha I can only describe as being in a moving ocean of humanity. I am claustrophobia but at least being tall I could see where I was going and breathe. In retrospect I would not recommend the climb down, you are too busy watching where you are stepping to admire the scenery or the buddha and of course when you want to take a photo the ocean around you moves.
At the base of the buddha we enjoyed a wild photographic spree and James spied the tourist boats he had wanted to take and growled! The climb up was a stark contrast to the descent, here a gently sloping path lead us past numerous little carvings in the cliff and allowed us space to photograph the view and most importantly to breathe, sadly though no view of the Giant Buddha on the ascent.
The rest of the Mount Emei scenic reserve is dotted with temples, gorgeous gardens and statues, so well worth an explore. But we found ourselves being drawn back to buddha for another look, he is a mesmerising little chap.
Leshan is an hour’s high speed train journey from Chengdu, so this is an ideal day trip from Chengdu and visiting the Pandas. Be sure to book your train tickets in advance, tickets come on sale usually 10 days out and with the sheer numbers of people travelling in China it is best to have your tickets booked. Also it is much easier with the language barrier to buy them from a website in English, the Travel China Guide and C-Trip are excellent for this. When you arrive at the train station you will need your passport, as there is a security check like there is in an airport.
Try to avoid going to the Buddha on a weekend, we were there on a Sunday and it was busy with Chinese. In retrospect I don’t think I would have bothered with the climb down beside the Buddha, there is plenty to see at the top of the mountain and this still gives you a great view of the buddha.
Look into viewing the Buddha from the river, we really regretted not making more of an effort to find out more about the boats. Catch a bus into town to the port not directly to Mount Emei as we did.
Leshan and the surrounding area is quite charming and we wish we had spent longer here, if time permits stay a night or two and explore it. This way you would be able to get to the Buddha in the morning when the gates open and avoid those crowds!